Have you practiced tzedakah today?

“Our works of charity are nothing but the overflow of our love of God from within.” Mother Theresa

I really like the television show Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory. Rob is awesome. If I saw him walking down the street I would ask him if we could be friends. He is cool guy. I don’t know what it is about Rob Dyrdek, but he seems to live life to the beat of his own drum. He invests in all sorts of odd real estate including a fantasy factory that has a foam pit and a zip line. (I guess if I was rich I would probably do the same thing–build a sweet place for all my friends to play around in.) I was watching an episode the other day where he asked Lamar Odom to invest in a restaurant because a true “mogul” needs a restaurant. The restaurant will serve Asian fusion food. I want to go to there.

 It’s pretty obvious that Rob spends a lot of money on extravgant things. But he also practices charity. I like that about Rob. In his abundance he, in some form or another, has understood that many around him don’t have as much. I remember an episode from Rob and Big, where Rob chose to give from his abundance. Rob was driving through skid row and handing out bags of brand new clothes. He gave from what he had to those who had nothing. Rob Dyrdek practiced tzedakah.

There is a great teaching in the Old Testament about charity. It is captured in the word tzedakah. God commanded his people to give to those who had nothing. They were reminded that the poor would always be among them; therefore, they should always be ready and willing to give (Deuteronomy 15:11). Tzedakah is often translated as “charity,” and is based on the Hebrew word for righteousness and justice. Many Jews practiced something called “acts of righteousness”–the right ordering of relationships and resources. Tzedakah can be translated as charity, but is is more than that. Charity implies that your heart motivates you to give and maybe give a little extra than you normailly would; tzedakah, however, means doing the right thing no matter your feelings. I guess tzedakah might look like giving to someone in need even if your heart is not in it because it is the right thing to do.

Jesus embodies this teaching in the gospels. He gives of his time and resources to those who are in need. He makes relationships right by his many healings and his radical inclusion of outsiders. Perhaps we can even say that the ultimate example of tzedakah happened when Christ chose the cross for us. A gift of grace and love, to make things right (Romans 4:22-25).

God has called his people to make things right in this world. It should be known that the world is full of people practicing tzedakah. Maybe they don’t realize the connection between their charity and the heart of God. When you see someone give and serve, tell them they are making things right and that God is pleased. Show them that our God is a God of compassion and justice. Live in such a way that you overflow with compassion towards others. We can all do something. We can all live with tzedakah. And we can even learn a valuable lesson from Rob Dyrdek.

Arizona Adventures: What we learned from exercise DVDS

Theologians are everywhere. Sometimes the most profound statements about God and faith are found not in books, but in a life lived and experienced together. These insights just seem to happen. Suddenly, during our regular and ordinary lives, the extraordinary occurs. God reminds us that He is with us.

It was like that in Arizona. God reminded us that He was there, working and ministering to us through His Spirit. We were in awe. There was so much healing that took place that week in the mountains. We confessed sin, admitted that we had fallen short, and replied unanimously, “Me too; I’ve been there, and I’m struggling with you.” We were reminded that this journey of faith is not a yellow brick road that leads to a life of prosperity and ease. Sometimes the road is marked with suffering, confusion and loss. Sometimes we forget that the gift of following Jesus Christ is not Cadillac’s, cash, and no colds; rather, the gift of following Jesus is Jesus. And he is worth the struggle.

One of our students made a profound statement while at camp. He remembered it from the P90X exercise DVDS that are so popular. He said, “I have not failed; I have not given up. Instead, I am currently struggling with this…” I thought that was incredible and I think we can all agree…me too! We are struggling but we have not given up. We are in need of grace and acceptance. Our sights are set upwards and no matter what happens we are not quitters, losers, or lost causes. Instead, we are those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39).

I smiled that evening as I looked upon a group of high school students who were genuinely living life together—no pretenses, no facades, and plenty of humility. We realized that we are struggling together, along with our King. And we will continue this fight because Jesus is worth it. We will pursue grace. Our Savior is not looking for us to attain awards, fame and accolades in this life. No, it is quite the opposite in fact. He is looking for scars and battle wounds as we struggle upwards, continually pursuing the Light.

Arizona Adventures. Part 1: The Road Trip

About a week ago we loaded up a few vans, piled in some high school students, and headed east to the land of deserts, and heat and Steve Nash. That’s right, we went to the AZ. It had been a while since I’d driven for so long and I was reminded of the many reasons why I like road trips. You get to deal with back pain, people getting car sick, high way patrol officers, and… did I mention people getting car sick? Yep, road trips are awesome. One thing is for certain, though: no matter what happens, a road trip is always an adventure.

I think one of the simplest things a road trip does is remind you of all the analogies you can make between traveling and life. There are some great songs that tie in this idea too. For starters, there are country songs like, Life is a Highway. Or classic rock ballads like Journey’s hit, Wheel in the Sky. And then there are Lady Gaga songs…well, I don’t really learn anything from her songs; they just end up creeping me out like clowns and trips to the dentist. Anyways, I think at the core, a road trip reminds us of something we already know to be true: where we started is not where we will end up. Our road trip began in Downey, and a few hours later we ended up in Blythe (gross) and then finally found beautiful Prescott. A road trip reminds us that the same is true for life. We are constantly on the move, preparing for the next part of our journey. Where we started is far behind us, and the future is closing in on us. Our lives are filled with the memories of the roads we’ve traveled, and the pit stops we’ve made.

Interestingly, our youth group’s summer theme this year is “Join the Journey.” We’ve been talking about how every person is on a spiritual journey and how God is revealing himself to creation. (And, coincidentally, we went on a mini journey to Arizona, and listened to a lot of Journey music to help us truly realize this theme. Everyone loves Journey, right!?) I believe Scripture teaches us that every person, no matter what, is on this spiritual journey and is being made aware of His presence. We, then, have a choice to make: How will we respond to Him? We’ve asked our kids some tough questions this summer like, “Where are you really at in this journey with God?” Do you feel you are trying to follow God’s path, or are you following your own? And, will you follow God even when things don’t go the way you’ve planned?” Needless to say, it has produced some very honest and candid conversations. Out on the open road, I was reminded of this truth over and over again. As I sat in this driver’s seat and watched the miles add up, I couldn’t help but wonder “where is my life heading? What kind of adventure am I writing with the miles I travel?’

In his book, Western Theology, Wes Seeliger says that there are two types of people who give rise to two types of theology. You are either a “pioneer” or a “settler.” You either view life as a possession to be guarded, or a gift to be explored. A settler is someone who desires security. They build fortresses, establish towns complete with court rooms and law offices, and construct forts. A settler is a person who establishes themselves, and dares not to move. They protect themselves from danger and make sure they uphold the rules. A pioneer on the other hand, is someone who blazes trails. They aren’t content with building monuments, but would rather explore the unknown. They don’t spend time building systems to protect themselves from outside forces; rather, they are out in the wilderness, confronting and facing danger head on. Think about it: are you a settler or a pioneer? Is your life an adventure to be lived and experienced or something to be guarded and kept tame? Truthfully, I probably act more like a settler at times, but in the deepest parts of my soul I desire to be a pioneer. I don’t want to accept something just because someone says it’s so. Likewise, I don’t want to secure my life just because it’s easier. I want to be in the wilderness. I want to face the open road. I want my journey to be marked by reckless abandon, and ruthless trust in God’s leading, not my own.

I guess it comes down to a choice on how I want to view my life. Comfort is a nice thing to have in your lazy boy chair, but a lousy thing to settle for as a follower of Christ. I have to remind myself that Jesus didn’t come to make my life comfortable. He came to invite me on a journey. He tells me that sometimes this journey will be unsafe and dangerous. And he invites me to live like a pioneer, a traveler who is not afraid to face the open road. A road trip reminds us that we are travelers, apart of an epic journey. We are not the same people we were when our journey began, and we won’t be the same when our journey ends. We already know the beginning and end of our story (you know the whole creation and heaven thing). The middle, though, is left up to us. And I for one want to go on more road trips.

To Stay or Leave: what I learned from Bron Bron.

It was the most highly anticipated free agency ever. Where would “King” James choose to go next season? It was funny because all I had to do last Thursday was say, “is it 6:00pm yet?” and everyone knew what I was talking about—even people who don’t watch basketball were tuned into the news. It was that big a deal.

Here’s the truth: I am biased. I am a Lebron James fan (this doesn’t mean I will ever sport a Heat jersey). I believe he was the undisputed MVP this past year. Yes, his team didn’t make it the finals; and yes, he had a rough series against the Celtics, but he was and still is incredible. I am biased because I love watching Bron Bron. We are the same age (even though he looks like he is like he’s in his late thirties; not the youthful twenty-five that he is). I remember the first time I saw Lebron. I was an eighteen year old preparing myself for four years of college; Lerbron was entering into the NBA. The first time I saw him play was at the McDonald’s All American Game. There were tons of people there, and a myriad of good players that year, but no one cared. All eyes were on Lebron. Truth be told, they still are.

I guess that’s why he shook the nation Thursday, declaring where he’d play next season. The gauntlet was dropped that evening when he announced he would no longer play for his home state’s team, the Cavs, but would instead, sign with the Miami Heat. In Cleveland mayhem ensued. Grown men cried in the streets, the GM of the Cavs reacted like a jealous girlfriend who just got dumped via Facebook and reamed Lebron with hate speech, and let’s not forget the biggest crush: a city’s heart was broken. Who knew the departure of a professional athlete could cause such despondency? Seriously, there was more crying Thursday than the night of the season finale of Friends. There was sadness in Ohio, but move a few miles to the south (South Beach to be exact) and people were dancing in the streets. And everywhere else in the country, well, the reaction seems to be mixed. A superstar joining a trio of great players is not as sweet a story as a local kid making his hometown great. I think there was a part in all of us that wanted him to stay. But what did we really expect from Lebron? It brings up an interesting point, and perhaps even a theological one: when is it right to stay, and when is it right to go?

I know what it’s like to have someone you respect and care about leave. Undoubtedly, we’ve all experienced the sting when someone leaves us whether it’s a teacher, coach, pastor, or loved one. Let’s be honest. There is pain involved. We may feel betrayed, abandoned, and not important. We question the individual’s loyalty and motives, and usually, we respond to their exodus with anger. I remember suffering a stint of fleeing youth pastors in middle school and high school, many of whom only stayed for a short while. After about a year they scattered quickly, like a dog when he hears the sound of the evil vacuum cleaner. It was rough for me personally and also for my church and youth group. Certainly, you communicate a lot to an organization and the people in your life with the amount of time you give them. The quantity of time truly communicates the care you have for them. But like in Lebron’s situation, does there come a time when it is right to leave? It’s difficult to answer this question when you’ve been “left” but if the situation is reversed, you may understand the importance of moving on.

Seven years ago when Lebron was signing with the Cavaliers, I was signing loan documents to attend college. While Lebron put on a Cav’s jersey and signed his multi-million dollar contract, I moved away from family and friends to start a new life in California. Even as an eighteen year old fresh out of high school, I knew wasn’t going back. I knew I had to leave. It was on my heart, and it was the direction God was calling me to go. Leaving the people you love and the security of what you’ve known is an arduous task to say the least. It is not a pain-free path to go down. However, in hindsight, I know it was the only option that I could live with. Henri Nouwen explains in his book Here and Now, that following Jesus is really an adventure in leaving. He asks the question:

“Are we able and willing to unhook ourselves from the restraining emotional bonds that prevent us from following our deepest vocation? Jesus wants to set us free, free from everything that prevents us from fully following our vocation…to come to that freedom we have to keep leaving our fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, and dare to follow him…”

Do we dare to follow Him even if it means we have to leave? Even if that means the people around us will be upset, and feel betrayed? Can we live with the disapproval of our peers and the ambivalence of our emotions (wanting to stay and knowing we need to go) in order to pursue what is best? Jesus challenges us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), and the necessity of “leaving” in order to attain the life he came to give us (Luke 18:29-30). That is a tough pill to swallow. But even in the difficulty of knowing when to stay and when to leave, there is hope. At the end of the day, we have to live with our decisions. Lebron said Cleveland will always have his soul. He gave them seven years of his life. He is not betraying a city, he is following his heart. That is something no one can judge him for.

We may never fully understand the reasons people need to leave in our lives. Likewise, we may also not fully comprehend those reasons when we’re the ones to leave! The truth is, however, that there is a time to stay and a time to go. It sounds cliché, and is probably worded more poetically and eloquently in that series about love and vampires and werewolves, but there is a time to listen to your heart. God gave us the ability to do so for a reason. We can’t fault Bron Bron for making the choice to leave. In life, there is a time to stay and a time to leave. We all have to make that choice eventually.